TECH TALK: SMS should stand for ‘Stationary, Motionless, or Sitting’

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First Posted: 5/28/2013

Texting while driving: it’s been happening for a very long time, but a recent spate of highly publicized fatalities has attracted a lot of attention to a habit that, while extremely commonplace, can prove deadly.

It was bad enough when phones didn’t have full-featured keyboards. Back in those days, the sheer difficulty of sending a regular text message was enough to deter many drivers from texting on the road.

But now all of that has changed. It’s easy to send a text message, simple to the point where it can be done one-handed.

And so it has become a commonplace sight in the world of motorized multitasking: driving with one hand on the wheel, thumbs frantically playing over the touchscreen, trying to get a message out. All of that while navigating a two-ton block of steel down the road at breakneck speed.

This is a different sort of distraction than radio, the GPS, or even talking on the phone. Sending a text message often requires you to switch the majority of your focus from the road to your phone.

And, of course, it’s not just text messages. It’s sending and receiving e-mails, sending tweets, posting status updates, snapping pictures on Instagram, browsing websites.

People do all of that and more while driving.

I’m guilty of it as well. I rationalize it by telling myself that I need to keep an eye on what’s going on at work, as do plenty of others.

“If something serious comes up,” I think, “I need to know about it right away.” I’m not entirely sure why I need to know about something that I might not be able to do anything about while I’m in the car, but such is the world we live in. That said, I don’t generally send outbound messages while driving, which is more than I can say for a lot of people.

I’ve seen some bad drivers in my day, and I’ve seen some people who are disasters with technology. They sometimes overlap, and the idea of encountering someone fumbling with their phone while swerving all over the road is frankly terrifying.

A lot of new cars offer text-to-speech functions, and some will read text messages that you receive to you, totally handsfree.

But all of that functionality depends on someone taking the time to setup all of those features, and many won’t bother with it even if it only takes a few minutes.

The bottom line is that there’s a really simple risk versus benefit equation at work: when you’re both driving and texting, e-mailing, tweeting, or whatever, you risk your life, and potentially those of other people, not to mention thousands of dollars in property damage, medical expenses, and emotional trauma – to respond to a message that probably wasn’t all that important in the first place. Think about it.

-Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at [email protected]